Game On: Breaking into College and Pro Football Broadcasting
College Football season is upon us. The Director of Digital Network at Conference USA tells us how they bring live sports to television.
In this exclusive interview, the Director of Digital Network for Conference USA gives us a look at game day production. This is a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to bring football to TV.
Image via Conference USA
About Our Guest
Jordan Foreman is the Director of Digital Network for Conference USA (C-USA). In that position, he produces C-USA Showcase, a weekly show that airs on several Fox Sports regional networks and Sinclair Broadcast Group affiliates. His team of coordinators travel to all of the 14 University campuses to produce feature stories and cover championship events. The staff relies on the video production crews at each school to supplement footage and content.
Jordan also works on the Event Presentation Staff for the Dallas Cowboys. At AT&T Stadium, he directs pre-game video board production in the plaza. During the game, he tracks and updates stats in the control room.
Image via Fandeavor
He began his career as a student assistant at the University of North Texas, working with coaches video and eventually video board production. He served as Video Coordinator at Louisiana Tech, then returned to North Texas as the Director of New Media. He handled video board production, marketing and promotional content, coordinated all A/V needs for Apogee Stadium, and assisted with the production of the award-winning weekly series Beyond The Green.
What Is Pre-Production Like for a Game Day?
I’d say the biggest production decision is how many cameras are you going to use. For a football TV broadcast, 4-5 cameras is pretty much the minimum.
- High 50 yard line
- High 20/25 yard line (Both Sides)
- End Zone
The good thing with sports is there are rules to the game: every football field is the same size. The bad thing is that every stadium is different.
[In older stadiums] TV trucks had to home run every camera connection, one cable from the camera directly into the truck; the camera locations weren’t powered so if you needed to plug into a power outlet, you had to run extension cords all over the place; the lighting was bad; the sight-lines were bad.
[In new stadiums] every camera location has multiple HDSDI, Fiber, Triax, XLR, and network connections, all feeding back to multiple locations for both the truck dock and the house feeds. All of that factors into how many cameras you have.
How Early Do You Show up for Game Day Video Production?
Every production is different. For video board operation, I had my staff of students show up 2 hours before kickoff.
Image via Mean Green Sports
For Dallas Cowboys event presentation (video board) crew, our call time is 6 hours before kickoff.
For broadcast, I think 6 hours before kickoff is probably the minimum.
Setup for video board is a lot easier… the camera ops and utilities still have to build and fax their cameras, but it’s all going back to the same control room every game. With a TV broadcast, you’re sending to a truck that might change from game to game.
Can You Give Insight to the Master Control Room?
The control room is an interesting ecosystem. I think the best example (in terms of scope) is AT&T Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys.
For Cowboys games, there is an executive producer, a couple associate/assistant producers, an EIC (video engineer), and an audio EIC (audio engineer) that are full-time Cowboys employees. Just about everyone else is freelance.
Image via Travel Addicts
The executive producer is keeping everyone on script, making sure we get all sponsored elements in, that fan engagement/energy is good, coordinating with the TV truck on when commercial breaks are happening, etc.
There’s a director calling which cameras to take; the technical director pushing the buttons on the switcher based on what the director calls; an associate director helping to keep the director up to date on what’s coming up on the script; a graphics producer entering updated stats, adding lower 3rds for ID, adding sponsor logos when needed.
In the “tape room” there are several replay operators, all taking in different camera feeds of the game and letting the directors know when they have the best shot of the play that just happened; there are multiple people in the video room where they can shade/color correct and focus all the cameras remotely during the game to make sure everything matches; you would find similar jobs and numbers on a larger TV broadcast. For audio there are about 11 people working throughout the stadium on audio, but for a TV broadcast this would be scaled back to 2-3.
Image via SB Nation
The TV broadcast will also have the broadcast booth where the talent is calling the game, so they’ll have some audio techs in there as well as a stage manager (similar to producer), spotters, stats trackers; then potentially a sideline reporter who will have 1-2 people with them on the field.
For the video board, in addition to all the people listed above, we also have all the different displays in the stadium that are run from the control room and coordinated under the executive producer; so there are several graphics operators (probably 6-10 people) working computers controlling graphics displays in venue.
What Goes Into a Conference Broadcast?
For Conference USA, our member schools are responsible for live event production. Even conference championship events, one of the responsibilities of the host school is to stream the event. Theoretically, I guess you could say we have 14 crews because there’s one at each school.
Our goal is to have every event at a C-USA school available live either on TV or on the internet as part of the C-USA Digital Network. We have increased the number of events both on TV and online over the last few years, but we can still increase that number even more.
We are in the process on revising/revamping our streaming standards and minimum requirements. With the advancement of technology and improvement of resources, the difference between a Fox Sports production coming in to do your game on national TV and what a college athletic department can do completely in-house, is shrinking more and more every year.
There are still differences, especially financially, but the technology available is making it possible to have a great broadcast with high production standards without having an 18-wheeler parked outside your facility.
How Are on Screen Graphics Handled? How Is the Clock and Score Updated in Game?
C-USA sends out a document to all of our media partners with the preferred name of each school (UTEP, not Texas-El Paso; North Texas, not UNT), what logos to use, what colors to use, etc.
Those little things are the important things, because if the TV production uses the wrong school abbreviation, that winds up in the score bug which is on the screen for 90% of the broadcast, and now that hurts the brand recognition of that school.
Image via Fox Sports 1
A lot of the graphics can be updated automatically. That doesn’t mean they always are, but often times they can be.
For time, score, down/distance, etc, a lot of that info is a data field in the graphic and it automatically updates from the official scoring system in the stadium. I have experience with Daktronics equipment so that’s all I can speak to, but it is extremely common in sports venues today.
The Daktronics scoreboard control unit can send a data feed to the TV truck that will automatically update the game clock, play clock, scores, down, distance, and time outs on the TV production score bug.
Similarly, a lot of player stats can be created with data fields and they auto-update during the game straight from the official scorer or stat keeper for the game. The graphics producer can input their own stats if needed or create graphics on the fly, but many times these can auto populate.
How Do They Feed Announcers Stats? How Do They Know If Records Were Broken?
Many times the broadcasters will have a stat monitor in front of them which updates after every play, again straight from the official stats keeper for that game. There are also people in the booth helping fill in the gaps.
Spotters watch the game and try to quickly tell the broadcaster who made a tackle, who caught a ball, which player may have come into the game. They’ll usually do this with a spotter board, which will have the depth chart for each team.
Image via SB Nation
It’s a unique relationship that takes time to build. The broadcaster may say “handoff to Smith, run to the 26 for a six yard gain…” and the spotter will point to a number on the depth chart, and the broadcaster will know “tackle made by Jones.” There will also be stats trackers in the booth helping update them on game trends, records, updates, etc.
All the records and previous game/season stats will be found in the media guide and game notes provided by each team. It’s a lot of information to parse through, but it’s all valuable and essential because you never know what’s going to happen in a game.
For a broadcast, the producers will get in touch with the media relations staff before a game and discuss any feature stories they want to shoot, any info that may be helpful to telling the story of the team or a certain player. The media relations staff will assist in scheduling interviews if needed.
Often times the broadcast talent (play by play, commentary, sideline reporter) and the producer will have a meeting with the head coach of each team the day or night before a game, and possibly even go watch a practice depending on the policy of the team and if they can make their schedule work.
How Does the Video Feed Go Out? Is It All via Broadcast Trucks?
All of our C-USA Digital Network games are available online at conferenceusa.com and are streamed through CBS Interactive (CBSi). Several of our schools use TriCasters but there are many other ways to send out a webcast.
One of our TV partners is American Sports Network (ASN). They are actually sending out their live TV broadcasts without using satellite trucks with a company called LTN.
The LTN technology takes the program feed out of the production truck and sends it to ASN master control via high speed internet connection. This removes the need for a satellite truck, which saves costs for ASN, which in turn allows them to cover more of our events.
How Did You Get Involved With Athletics?
I always wanted to work in sports. My original plan was to be a sports writer, but my senior year of high school I started working on a local sports call-in TV show in my hometown in south Louisiana, and I got hooked on video production.
After two years studying journalism at LSU, I transferred to North Texas. I took a shot and just emailed someone in the athletic department with the title of “video coordinator” and asked if I could volunteer. He called me about an hour later and said:
I actually had to fire a kid this morning, so if you can be here for practice tomorrow morning, I have a paying job for you.
I spent every free moment I had hanging out in the athletic department and eventually they started giving me work to do other than just shooting practice, and I wound up being the only student working in the production truck for the football video boards.
[The early] video board productions were very rough because I was literally making it up as I went along, just trying to build off of whatever I learned the week before, whether it was from a production standpoint or a technical/equipment standpoint. This was also right at the time web video was becoming more common, so I started coming up with ideas for web video content.
In college athletics, people change jobs quite often, and a lot of getting a job is who you know. It’s not just knowing people, but making an impression on people and making them think of you when they have an opportunity. When the Conference USA opportunity presented itself, it just made too much sense.
What Advice Do You Have for People Wanting to Shoot Sports?
To get into sports broadcasting or production, whether it’s as a camera op or working in a production truck, to me there are three things you need: talent, passion, and knowledge.
Talent is obvious. Like with any job, you need to be able to know your job, do it well, do it reliably, and get better all the time. Especially as a camera op, you have to be able to follow the game, know what you’re looking at, and react quickly to keep your shot. And that’s something that some people can just do and others can work and practice for hours and never get the hang of it.
Live production is cut-throat, you have one shot to get that play; no one’s ever going to get them all but you better get the majority of them or they’ll find someone who will.
The second is passion. You’ll put in a lot of hours and miss out on a lot of other things, so you better either love the job you’re doing or love the sport you’re covering, otherwise you’re not going to enjoy it at all. Bonus points if you love both.
The third is knowledge. Again you have to be able to react quickly when you’re covering a game, so you can’t think about what you’re looking at or take a second to try to figure out what’s going on. You have to know the sport you’re covering; the rules of the game, the goal, what the referee means when he says something, if this happens then, this is going to happen next.
Then you have to know your job; am I following the play, am I shooting an iso shot on the quarterback, where am I on the field, if there’s a penalty do I shoot the white hat or not. Both of these things have to become almost instinct.
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